Category Archives: Gardener’s Notebook

Xeric Tapestry

This photo shows one variation on a new Draggin’ Wing gardening concept we call “Xeric Tapestry”. A combination of low and mid-size, mostly evergreen plants grow into a densely-packed, ultimately low-maintenance, weed-free carpet of beauty.
Each Xeric Tapestry will be different, depending on the combination plants that is used. This one contains–among other things–Hidcote lavender, dwarf salvia, partridge feather, prostrate germander and various sedums.
The dense carpet of plants stops weed seeds from blowing in, reaching the soil and germinating. However, thorough weeding initially and for the first two or three years is necessary while the carpet is coming together.

June 11, 2024

Sue and Andy’s Rock Garden

This lovely rock garden is just one part of a stunning overall landscape created by plant enthusiasts Sue and Andy. In this spot they have used a variety of small cacti and yuccas along with buckwheats, various little groundcovers and mounding perennials to beautiful effect. Kennedy’s Buckwheat, a California native, plays a starring role.
Rocks and boulders can enhance almost any xeriscape. They create niches, protection and micro-climates, plus they funnel rain water right to the plants tucked beneath.

May 8, 2024

Michael’s Garden

I love it when customers are able to share photos of their beautiful gardens. Michael, a skilled photographer, has been buying plants regularly for several years and has landscaped several different areas of his yard. Here is one inspiring example. Thank you Michael!
The nursery is off and running for spring. There is a small window this time of year when new seedlings kick in and grow vigorously before settling down to survive the summer.

April 24, 2024

Woolypod Milkvetch

Spring is here, and the lower foothills are popping with early blooming flowers. This one, Woolly Pod Milkvetch, or Pursh’s Astragalus, is one of my favorites. Notice them along the edges of trails right at your feet. In a few weeks, notice again and you will see the inflated, woolly seedpods that give the plant its common name.
I would love to be able to grow some kind of Milkvetch in my garden, but that hasn’t worked so far. However, some beautiful native plants need to just be admired in the places they grow naturally.

March 30, 2024

Ephedra in Winter

Landscapes can look pretty dreary in winter, so it is great when we find native and xeric plants that are evergreen. Mormon Tea, that big ball of twiggy green stems, is a fabulous year-round foundation shrub. Its little buddy on the left is one of the many western US yuccas that also look good in winter.
Mormon Tea has a rich history of use as a medicinal and a strong stimulant by native peoples of the Mountain West as well as Mormon settlers. You could brew yourself a cup of Mormon Tea, but I’ve heard that it will probably keep you awake–even more than caffeine.
Like pines and spruces, Mormon Tea is a conifer because it produces cones along those green stems, not flowers. Mormon Tea and its relatives are sometimes call “Joint Firs” because the green stems are punctuated with small nodes, which is where the little cones poke out. The appearance is similar to another ancient plant, water-loving Horsetail.

February 1, 2024

City Pollinator Gardens

Boise City Parks and Rec has been busy creating pollinator gardens in several city parks. This new one is located at the south end of Quinn’s Pond. We all love to see honeybees on our flowers, but it is important to remember that there are many native bees–nearly 4,00 species in North America–who also benefit from pollinator gardens.
The little bee box behind the sign is full of small tubes for the 30% of native bees, like leafcutters and mason bees, that nest in tunnels. About 70% of native bees, including most bumblebees, are ground nesters. For them, open space between plants is habitat.

September 28, 2023

Hardiness Zones

What zone are we in Boise? This is one of the questions most frequently asked at the nursery. I tell folks that, despite global warming, I still believe we should be considered zone 5. The photo above, from my front yard illustrates what can happen to a once beautiful zone 6 Rosemary ‘Arp’. This Rosemary had been growing like crazy for several years, and I let it go until it covered the little walkway in the photo. It was glorious–until this spring. And, please note: this rosemary is growing right against a south facing wall.
Hardiness zones are geographical regions defined by average minimum winter temperatures. For example, zone 5: -15, zone 6: -5 and zone 7: +5. By that scale Boise should be zone 7, right?
But–in my opinion–average minimum lows are too simplistic a method of predicting plant survival. Other factors are equally important. The abrupt onset of cold (plants are not ready); extra long winters (like last winter); and early winter warming followed by spring cold–these factors can kill plants even when the actual low temperatures are not even close to the theoretical minimums for your zone.
At Draggin’ Wing, we stick to zone 5 and below, with an occasional zone 6 plant. Our goal is to offer plants that will last through the ups and downs of the seasons–and those ups and downs appear to be getting more extreme!
August 28, 2023

Sunflowers

Sunflowers are in full bloom right now, attracting hoards of bumblebees and other pollinators. The annual sunflower, shown here, makes a wonderful addition to a less formal xeric garden–one in which you don’t mind finding a crop of new seedlings every year. Annual sunflowers are incredibly drought-tolerant, especially if they sow themselves. In addition they attract finches and other birds who dine on the tasty seeds.
These annual sunflowers are the parents of myriad ornamental cultivars of different colors and sizes.
But annuals are only part of the story. There are about 70 different species of sunflowers, mostly native to N. America. Many of them are perennials, like Maximilian’s Sunflower–which we have been offering for some years. This year we are experimenting with two new perennial sunflowers–Western Sunflower and Dwarf Sunflower. Dwarf Sunflower (Helianthus pumilus) is native to parts of Idaho, Montana and Colorado and Western Sunflower (Helianthus occidentalis) is native not to the West, but to drier areas in the East and Midwest. Go figure.

August 7, 2023

Annuals in the Garden

This cheerful little annual, Desert Bluebells (Phacelia campanularia), has just come into full bloom and is attracting a variety of bees and other pollinators. I threw out the seed for this plant last fall aiming to enhance pollinator habitat around the nursery throughout the summer. Like most annuals, this Phacelia should bloom all summer.
For those just establishing a perennial xeriscape, incorporating one or two annual flowers is a great way of filling in open spots while the larger perennials are slowly growing in. If the annuals reseed freely, they may come back next year on their own, or they may be gradually crowded out by the expanding perennials. I think it is a great way to get a jump start on creating a pollinator paradise in your yard.
Please note: the nursery will be open with regular hours this week and next. After that, we’ll be open only by appointment until reopening for the month of September.

June 6, 2023

Nurse Tree

Hiking in the foothills last weekend, I noticed yellow flowers poking out from a leafless Hackberry tree. Coming closer, I saw a healthy Golden Currant growing up within the arms of the still dormant Hackberry. What’s going on?
Golden Currants are very widespread in the lower foothills, but they do not typically grow all by themselves on hot, dry hillsides. In this case, the currant–no doubt planted by a bird–was able to get established in the protective shade of the Hackberry, its ‘nurse tree’.
This example shows how currants (and other native plants) can be extremely tough and xeric if they are lucky enough to be nursed along through their first vulnerable year or two of growth.
On the same hike I saw other Golden Currants growing in the shade of Bitterbrush. Keep an eye out when you are hiking, you may see other ‘nurse tree’ or ‘nurse bush’ situations.

May 4, 2023

Specialists

Recently, I wrote about some plants that are generalists in the sense that they have the ability to survive in a variety of environments, including our gardens. Other plants are more like specialists. These seem to thrive only under certain conditions–special soil, special elevation, special companion plants and so forth. And some plants act like specialists in the sense that they do fine in the wild but die if you try to grow them in a nursery pot.
From a grower’s perspective, there a number of such tricky, difficult native plants–including these beautiful lupines, which thrive in our lower foothills. I know folks would love to see them in their home landscapes–along with other desirable natives such as Arrowleaf Balsamroot, Paintbrush, native Phloxes and Milkvetches. I have tried and failed to grow all of these!
Perhaps others have succeeded where I have failed, but for now I accept that there are some plants that I won’t try to grow but will simply appreciate whenever I see them in the wild.

April 2, 2023

Thyme in Winter

Some plants respond to cold weather in beautiful ways. The woolly thyme in this photo from my front yard is especially striking when it turns purple in winter. Come spring, the foliage will gradually shift back to a beautiful soft gray-green. As shown in the photo, it is fun to combine different types of creeping thyme–and there are many–to highlight contrasting winter colors.
Evergreen groundcovers are among my favorite landscape plants, often great replacements for lawn.
The dark green at the top is an evergreen/groundcover penstemon–Davidson’s.

March 17, 2023

Adaptation

Having just finished a book about plant and animal adaptation, or non-adaptation, to climate change, I have been thinking about the ability certain plant species to survive, even thrive, when the environment is radically changed. Specifically, when we move plants from high to low.

Many of the Penstemons that we grow are naturally higher-elevation plants, and many of them simply refuse to grow reliably down here in the valley. But a few, like Lovely Penstemon (Penstmon venustus), have proven to be adaptable and long-lived in local landscapes.

But why? Why has Lovely Penstemon evolved to be able to withstand environmental variability or disruption? This, to me, is one of the intriguing mysteries of gardening. Each time I discover one of Idaho’s beautiful mountain plants and find that it succeeds in our (arguably hostile) low-elevation environment—that is a moment of revelation. And even hope for the future!

March 2, 2023

Sagebrush Love

A recent article by local birder and conservationist Terry Rich inspires me to speak out (again) for Sagebrush. As you may know, there has been a stunning and tragic decline in North American songbird populations over the last 50 years. These declines are analyzed by habitat type. The data shows that birds of the Western Forests have not declined seriously, but ‘Aridland’ bird populations have plummeted, by about 25%. These are the birds of our dominant native landscape, the Sagebrush Steppe.

If you are new to the Intermountain West, the Sagebrush desert may strike you as desolate, uninhabited. But a healthy Sagebrush ecosystem supports a huge variety of fauna and flora: badgers and pronghorn, lizards and toads, grasses and flowers, a wealth of insects. And birds—hawks, sparrows, flycatchers and meadowlarks—many songbirds plus the iconic Greater Sage-Grouse.

It’s easy to love the beautiful flowering plants of our gardens. Harder, perhaps, to love Sagebrush—until you see it as the anchor, the rock on which so many other species rely. So, here’s to Sagebrush and a healthy New Year!

 

January 6, 2023

Creeping Oregon Grape

Creeping Oregon Grape, Mahonia repens, is one of our most versatile and useful native plants for landscaping. Its evergreen leaves settle into deep reddish-purple in winter, and when spring comes it erupts with a flush of cheerful yellow flowers.
Mahonia repens is a quite common in the upper foothills. There it grows mostly in the forest, tolerating deep shade–but the plants are small and don’t flower a lot. Oddly, this native develops into a much larger, showier specimen down here in the valley, happy in sun or shade.
Because of its compact proportions (2′ x 2′ or so) Mahonia repens has many uses in a landscape. You may be familiar with a much larger Oregon Grape, Mahonia aquafolium, which is fairly common in yards and along the greenbelt. The big one can sometimes be a bit overwhelming. Both Mahonias are admirably drought tolerant.
As winter approaches, my admiration for tough, evergreen plants skyrockets!

November 26, 2022

Fall Bloom

Regular nursery open hours are due to end in just two days, yet there are still so many beautiful plants in bloom! In this strange year–cold, with snow in May, then heat without a break all summer–the flowering time of many plants was delayed. Several plants are just now beginning to flower. But of course, no two years or seasons are alike or predictable. The magic is in growing plants that are flexible and resilient, plants that can put up with whatever our erratic and changing climate throws at them.

September 28, 2022

Datura

It’s Datura season at my house. In the mid to late summer this amazing plant begins producing giant trumpet-like flowers, sometimes a dozen or more on a single plant. Datura is famously hallucinogenic and poisonous but also incredibly alluring for honeybees.The flowers open just as dusk is falling and honeybees–who usually don’t stay out real late–get so excited that they try to squeeze their way in before the flower has actually opened up. It is fun to stand around and watch the flowers open, as you can see the petals twist and move in real time. The flowers last only one night and remain open for a while the next morning. Then they wilt and are replaced by a new crop of flowers the following evening.

September 9, 2022

Drought tolerance

I took this photo this morning of the oldest/upper part of our demonstration garden. Most of these plants have been here for 12 to 15 years. Last year, the drip watering system sprung a leak, which I didn’t manage to repair until sometime in July. The plants looked fine, and so the repair job took a back seat. In the end, the area got water only three times all summer.

Based on that experience, this year I postponed watering until early July and then watered once more in early August. Despite the persistent heat, the plants still mostly look fine. Frankly, I have been kind of amazed!

The lesson here seems to be that many of our plants can develop extreme heat and drought tolerance once they are well established.

Establishment is the key—and that takes time. As the plants in a low-water landscape grow, they put a lot of energy into their root systems—which can be massive. That is why many perennials appear to grow so slowly in the first year or two. Watering plants long and deep but infrequently encourages roots to go deep and find the water.

Sometimes a broken pipe or other accident can reveal new truths. This example demonstrates how extreme drought tolerance can develop over of many years. Patience!

August 9, 2022

Seed Harvest

As summer kicks into full gear, we begin hustling to gather seed at Draggin’ Wing Nursery. There are nearly 90 species on my seed collection list this year, most of which are available from plants now growing in the demonstration gardens.
The seed set on Curleaf Mountain Mahogany, above, is particularly spectacular this year. Probably thanks to those amazing spring rains. When a tree is loaded with seed like this, the whole plant can look like a giant ball of fuzz.
Attached to each seed is a long, furry tail. As the seed ripens, the tail begins to corkscrew. And when the seed eventually falls, the corkscrew can help to spin it right into the ground.
Curleaf Mountain Mahogany is a widespread native tree/shrub occurring in upland areas throughout southern Idaho as well as the West in general. One of its great assets as a landscape plant is that the leaves stay green all winter. It is an unusual creature: an evergreen tree that is not a pine, fir or spruce.

July 7, 2022

Queen of the Foothills

Arrowleaf Balsamroot, Balsamorhiza saggitatta, is my nominee for the title ‘Queen of the Foothills’. Its big, happy flowers are one of the first treats of the wildflower season. The blooms arise from a massive taproot that can extend 6’ into the ground.  This huge root, plus stems and seeds, were all used for food and medicine by many native peoples.
Many, if not most, native plants thrive only in restricted elevation ranges. Not Balsamroot! Given full sun and relatively dry soil, this plant grows cheerfully from the lowest to the highest elevations in our foothills. So for flower lovers, the Balsamroot season stretches out as we follow the movement of spring up the mountain.
The downside of Balsamroot is that it refuses to grow for any length of time in a pot. Apparently, its gigantic taproot will not tolerate such a restriction. So—no Balsamroot at the nursery! You can collect seed in about a month, direct sow it into the ground and wait patiently for nature to take its course.

June 2, 2022

Rethinking Catmint

Over the years I continue to revise my thinking about what makes a great landscape plant. One of the first plants that I worked with when starting the nursery was ordinary Catmint, Nepeta mussinii. As much as I liked it, I realized that it seeded out freely and could be a troublesome invader. So I switched to a sterile type of Catmint, one that definitely would not overrun a garden.

However, as I observed ordinary Catmint spreading itself throughout my huge front yard, I noticed how beautifully long-blooming it is and how much it is visited by bees and other pollinators. The sterile form, on the other hand, didn’t bloom as long or enthusiastically and did not offer a lot for pollinators. I learned that when we choose plants for certain qualities (like good behavior), we may lose other benefits (like production of pollen and nectar).

Catmint is not appropriate for every landscape, but in the right setting it is a superstar!

May 20, 2022

Restoration

If you have been hiking in the foothills or along the greenbelt recently, you have probably noticed lots of these little cages protecting tiny plants. They are part of the ongoing, city-led work to restore areas of native habitat.  As folks become aware that improving habitat is crucial to the long-term health of insects, fish and birds, volunteers have jumped in to help. Leading the effort to organize and recruit volunteers is our local chapter of the Audubon Society. It is exciting to see how a love of birds is translating naturally into a love of the native plants that support birds. To learn about a variety of projects underway and perhaps to become a volunteer, check out this information on the Audubon website: https://www.goldeneagleaudubon.org/restoration.

April 29, 2022

Spring Wildflowers

As spring is rapidly advancing, are you eager to check out some of the early blooming wildflowers in the Boise foothills? If so, take a look at Treasures of the Boise Front, an marvelously informative website created by botanist Barbara Ertter. You can find detailed descriptions of many foothills hikes, along with pictures and descriptions of native and non-native plants found along those hikes. One to look for right now is the endearing Sagebrush Buttercup.

March 28, 2022

Sonoran Desert

Of the three ‘hot’ deserts in the western US (Sonoran, Mohave and Chihuhuan), the Sonoran is considered the most botanically diverse. Never having been there before, I recently drove south to see it

Ancient giant saguaros, pockmarked with the old holes of nesting birds, are almost other-worldly.  Agaves, from small to gigantic, form graceful, fat rosettes–many with dead  flowering stalks still towering above them. Sprawling prickly pears and fuzzy-looking chollas catch the sun.  Tall thin, spiny ocotillos wave in the breeze.  An amazing variety of trees– palo verde, ironwood, mesquite and others thrive in the hot lowlands, while various oaks, junipers, sycamore, manzanita and much, much more grow at higher elevations.

All in all, it is an amazing landscape, full of plants of amazing form and variety. I had hoped to see a few more spring flowers, but the winter has been dry and there was little color. Yet the beauty of the Sonoran Desert (like any great landscape) does not depend on colorful flowers alone.

March 15, 2022

Yuccas in Winter

Yuccas, like these in the Yucca corner of our demo gardens, provide a sharp accent of green in the gray of winter. This planting contains six different Yucca species, all native to the Western US. These plants are slow-growing, and none are old enough yet to produce their characteristic spike of white flowers.
Maybe you have noticed lots of rather floppy-looking dark green Yuccas around town.  Oddly, these common Boise yuccas (
Yucca filamentosa, or ‘Adam’s Needle’) somehow arrived here from the Eastern U.S., where they are native. This is a shame, as they are a poor examples of an overwhelmingly beautiful group of landscape plants.
Western Yuccas are upright, stately and elegant. Although their native ranges are mostly south of Idaho, many of them are cold hardy enough for our climate. I used to think Yuccas were yucky—but not any more!

February 24, 2022

Winterfat Puzzle

On a nice autumn day Winterfat, a native desert shrub, catches the slanting sun and is truly a thing of beauty. The Winterfat in this photo is full of seed. In the wild such plants provide valuable forage–‘fat’–for critters, thus the name.
The puzzle is: Why in my garden is this particular Winterfat so fuzzy and full of seed and other examples of Winterfat are not fuzzy at all?
I made a brief excursion on the internet to pose the question: Is Winter monoecious (male and female flowers on the same plant) or dioecious (male and female flowers on separate plants).
If some Winterfat plants in my garden are males and others (like this one) are females, that would explain why they look so different right now.
Here are some answers to the puzzle:
Winterfat plants
 “are dioecious”
 “are monoecious . . .and occasionally they are dioecious.”
are “monoecious or dioecious”.
Wow! Who knew that plants could be one or the other, either/or? This is the kind of little surprise that make amateur botany such an adventure.

October 22, 2021

Strict Buckwheat

Driving up to Bogus Basin recently, I noticed the beautiful clumps of Strict Buckwheat scattered along the roadside. Strict Buckwheat always blooms this time of year in the lower foothills, but I was particularly impressed by its ability to put on a dazzling show despite the blazing heat of the past summer. Strict Buckwheat is one of my favorites in the native garden, spreading gently by seed and staking claim to any open dry area.
Note: A friend recently forwarded a NY Times article entitled “Why You Should Do Your Spring Planting in the Fall”. The article reaffirmed much of my gardening experience. Fall planting provides new transplants a long period of R&R before facing the heat and drought of summer. The vigor of a fall-planted hardy perennial far surpasses that of one planted in the spring. At the nursery, where we begin production in early spring, many of our perennials are not ready to plant out until fall. Leftovers from fall sales are what we have to offer in early April.

September 10, 2021

Insect Apolcalypse

The longer that I work with plants, the more I learn to love and appreciate insects of all kinds. This time of year, insect activity is one of the best things about the garden. The story of insects is a story of connections: plants feed insects, insects pollinate plants, insects become food for birds, bats, fish, frogs and more.
Watching these beautiful and industrious bees, it is easy to forget that the big picture for insects is truly grim. Dave Goulson, entomologist and author of two entertaining books about bees (A Sting in the Tale and A Buzz in the Meadow) recently wrote about what he calls the looming “Insect Apocalypse”. Researchers are seeing a decline in the overall abundance of insects worldwide on the order of 75% over the past 50 years. The data is alarming, depressing and numbing, but we can all do something.
Goulson asks us to “Imagine green cities filled with trees, vegetable gardens, ponds and wild flowers squeezed into every available space – in our gardens, city parks, allotments, cemeteries, on road verges, railway cuttings and roundabouts – and all free from pesticides.”
It’s a vision well worth working on.
Note: The nursery will be open for fall planting starting Wednesday, September 1. Hours are: Wednesday-Friday 12-5; Saturday 10-5. Loads of plants will be available!

August 26, 2021

Genetic Variability in Native Plants

The two plants shown above are versions of Lacy Buckwheat (Eriogonum corymbosum), a beautiful, large Utah native. Both will cover themselves with small white flowers in the fall, but one will bloom earlier than the other. These two plants offer a great example of something I see all the time: genetic variability in native plants. Unlike highly cultivated species—which tend to be quite uniform –native plants can be highly variable in appearance, even differing in leaf color as in our two examples. This genetic variability allows native plants to adapt and survive the challenges that Mother Nature throws at them year after year.

And for me, it is also one of the challenges and joys of gardening with natives.

July 29, 2021

Syringa Bloom Time

If you get a chance, stick your nose in a handful of syringa blossoms and inhale. Our beautiful state flower is in full bloom right now, and I think this is a banner year.
The plant was named (botanically) after Meriwether Lewis–Philadelphus lewisii. But it is commonly called after two other plants: oranges–as in ‘Mock Orange’ and lilacs–as in ‘syringa’, which is the genus for lilacs. Ah, the confusion of common names.
Syringa is quite widespread along various trails in the foothills, but you are not likely to really notice it until it is blooming.
Last summer, I was fortunate enough to experience a raft trip down the Middle Fork of the Salmon River. It was late June, and syringa was in full bloom, lining the river banks for mile after mile. It was breathtaking. I have rarely had a more visceral sense of the generosity and beauty of nature: a great choice for our state flower.

June 8, 2021

Early Buckwheat

Buckwheat season has begun! As many of you know, I am a huge fan of Buckwheats, a large genus (Eriogonum) of annual and perennial flowering plants native to N. America, mainly the arid Western US. This early blooming buckwheat is Eriogonum heracloides, called variously Creamy, Wyeth, Whorled or Parsnipflower Buckwheat.  I use ‘Whorled Buckwheat’, as the whorl of leaves halfway up the flowering stalk is a good identifier.
Whorled Buckwheat lives in the Boise Foothills, along with Sulfur Buckwheat. You can see its cheery bloom in a few weeks as you drive up Bogus Basin Road.
The blooming of Whorled Buckwheat is a sure sign that we are settling into the truly warm weather of spring—and it might be a good time to plant your tomatoes!
*Erion is Greek for woolly and gonum means knees, so you can call these plants the “Woolly Knees”!

May 10, 2021

Artemisias

The charming groundcover above, “Dwarf Wormwood”, is a part of the large genus Artemisa. With hundreds of species worldwide, Artemisias are called, variably, Wormwood, Mugwort or Sagebrush.
In Europe, the genus was named after a famous Greek queen and healer, Artemisia of Halicarnassus, as well as the Greek goddess Artemis. Artemisia was used traditionally in the medicines of Europe and Asia and has recently been tested for use in the fight against Covid. Artemisias have also played a role in flavoring food (Tarragon) and drink (Absinthe).
Upon colonizing the American West, Europeans were reminded of another Old World medicinal herb, Sage (Salvia), and gave the widespread local Artemisa its confusing name ‘Sagebrush’. They viewed the Sagebrush ‘ocean’  as endless and saw little utility in it.
We are are coming late to the appreciation of Sagebrush as the anchor of our high desert landscape and the key species for the preservation of much desert life, including the endangered Sage Grouse.

 

May 10, 2021

Hackberry Harvest

Harvest time in the Hackberry!
Netleaf Hackberries are a striking presence in the rock outcroppings of our lower foothills, and they produce a crop of small, sweet berries each year. The trees hang onto much of that fruit through winter, then leaf out in the late spring. Although the berries are partially dried, the birds are now having a feast.
Yesterday as I walked over to the nursery, I saw robins, waxwings and others swarming this tree.
So why plant natives? Hackberries are a great example of how native species can support local wildlife.

April 1, 2021

‘Donkey Tail’ Spurge

I took this photo yesterday of Myrtle Spurge, aka Donkey Tail Spurge (Euphorbia myrsinites), spreading aggressively in the Boise Foothills. This attractive attractive pest was once considered a great choice for xeric landscaping, but its drought-tolerance and ease of propagation has allowed it to jump into the wild. A native of Eurasia, it can easily overwhelm native competitors and is now listed as a noxious weed in Colorado, Oregon and some Utah counties. It is probably too late to prevent it from taking over large areas of our Foothills, but we should still avoid it in our landscapes. Always wear gloves when yanking it out–the stems contain a nasty, milky sap.

March 21, 2021

The Structural Beauty of Sagebrush

Years ago, when the kids were small, we started replacing the traditional Christmas tree with a sagebrush. Going out into the desert to cut one was a family adventure and the result was always somehow miraculous. The trees looked windswept and architectural, beautiful in the way that asymmetrical Japanese-style flower arranging is beautiful.
These days when I am out hiking I am often struck by the unpredictable and graceful forms of many sagebrush. While sagebrush is not a good fit for many landscape projects, I think it is too often overlooked as design feature, especially in native and xeric projects. Next time you look at sagebrush in the wild, see if you find the structural beauty in its gnarly, off-kilter form.

Years ago, when the kids were small, we started replacing the traditional Christmas tree with a sagebrush. Going out into the desert to cut one was a family adventure and the result was always somehow miraculous. The trees looked windswept and architectural, beautiful in the way that asymmetrical Japanese-style flower arranging is beautiful.
These days when I am out hiking I am often struck by the unpredictable and graceful forms of many sagebrush. While sagebrush is not a good fit for many landscape projects, I think it is too often overlooked as design feature, especially in native and xeric projects. Next time you look at sagebrush in the wild, see if you find the structural beauty in its gnarly, off-kilter form.

February 11, 2021

Rosemary in Winter

Rosemary is one of my favorite water-thrifty landscape plants. It is beautiful, especially in winter, and feeds honeybees in summer. The hitch is that Rosemary, even the most cold-hardy varieties (e.g. ‘Arp’) are only marginally hardy here in Boise. The solution: find (if you can) the right micro-climate like this one–a warm, sunny, south-facing brick wall. The brick is not absolutely necessary, but it helps.
P.S. Note the purple carpet in front. That is Woolly Thyme in winter, a nice contrast.

 

January 26, 2021

An Inspiring Example

Here is a truly inspiring landscape created by customers Pascale and Matt at their home on the bench. They describe their soil as alkaline clay. They write: “We’ve found some plants do fine in the clay- lavender, artemisia, most ornamental grasses, ice plants, echinacea, Jupiter’s beard and catmint. For the more drainage-sensitive plants we had soil brought in and built small berms. We used a sandy loam mixed with lava fines. It was really tough to keep up with the watering the first summer until we got the drip irrigation installed, now it’s a pretty low-maintenance yard.”
Low maintenance and stunning!

 

May 27, 2020

Jacob’s Garden

I love it when customers send me photos of their beautiful landscapes. This one really knocked my socks off! Jacob filled his smallish front yard with a huge variety of plants, and his approach has paid off–low water but full of vibrant color. Photo courtesy of Jacob Durtschi.

June 24, 2018

June 23, 2018

Paintbrush

 

The Paintbrush is blooming on Mores Mountain! It’s just one of the most striking sights awaiting hikers. But as much as people would love to have Paintbrush in their home gardens, I have not yet figured out how to grow these beauties in a pot–or even in the ground. Fun facts: 1) the red you see are bracts (modified leaves), which hide the tiny flowers 2) most Paintbrushes are semi-parasitic, deriving some of their nutrients and water from the roots of a host plant, a strategy that allows them to inhabit drier spots.There are about 250 species of Paintbrush in N. America and over 20 in Idaho. Photo courtesy of Kathleen Moyer.

June 15, 2018
June 16, 2018